Puskas: Be careful what you wish for

Three strikes and Ohio’s competitive-balance referendum is out — at least for now.

A proposal on separate tournaments for public and private schools could be back in, and it could be on the ballot by next spring.

Ohio’s high school principals rejected the latest competitive-balance proposal in voting over the last two weeks. The Ohio High School Athletic Association announced the results Thursday. The vote was 327 to 308 (51.5 percent to 48.5 percent) against. Similar proposals failed in 2012 and in 2011.

“I will be consulting with our Board of Directors to see what action, if any, we take next, but I anticipate at a minimum that a proposal on separate tournaments for public and non-public schools will again be placed on the ballot next spring via the petition process,” said OHSAA Commissioner Daniel B. Ross, Ph.D.

This public-private dispute is getting old. As The Vindicator’s Joe Scalzo tweeted Thursday: “I think if you took a vote among Ohio sportswriters, they would vote to stop having to write about competitive balance proposals.”

Indeed. Most of us got into this business to cover sports, not people in suits filing paperwork about sports and school officials arguing whether private schools have an inherent and unfair advantage or if public schools with open enrollment are the new villains.

I’m just as weary of one proposal after another coming along and nothing ever getting resolved, as those on both sides of the public-private issue snipe at one another from the weeds (or their computers).

I don’t claim to know the solution to Ohio’s competitive-balance problem. Depending on the day, I’m not even sure there is a problem, or that it’s big enough to warrant the never-ending complaints or nuking the current setup. That said, the proposal that was just rejected seemed equitable. It addressed the issues of private schools drawing athletes from other places and of public schools using open enrollment to bring in their own “recruits.”

But it failed — and I suspected it would — because that last part didn’t appeal to a lot of public-school officials whose districts have open enrollment. And in part because some of the principals who voted want separate tournaments in Ohio. Some public-school officials — Hello, Canfield! — don’t even want to compete with private schools during the regular season, let alone in tournaments.

This desire may come at their own peril.

If publics and privates eventually go their separate ways, the privates will likely form their own association — free of OHSAA guidelines — and it will be open season on the public schools’ precious Johnny Football stars. If you think recruiting happens now, just wait.

This isn’t just one crazy guy’s theory. A private-school coach told me in no uncertain terms what would happen if separate tournaments come to Ohio: “All bets would be off,” he said.

Without having to answer to the OHSAA, why would private schools think twice about pitching the benefits of their programs to players and parents? They could do it openly. That scenario is straight from the be-careful-what-you-wish-for file.

The more I read and write about this issue, the more questions come to mind:

Can’t we all just get along and play the games? Why do so many adults — who should have other things to worry about — seem to seek their self-worth from high school sports?

The games are for the kids. They used to be, anyway.

Ed Puskas is The Vindicator sports editor. Write him at epuskas@vindy.com and follow him on Twitter, @epuskas85.

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